STARLIGHT — It’s been almost 12 months, but the temporary barriers erected within Huber’s Orchard and Winery’s tasting rooms and wine dining areas are now gone.
The ropes and stanchions separated places where wine was being sold from the rest of the room — a precaution previously mandated by the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to keep minors out.
The barriers became a requirement in the summer of 2016 when the ATC “reinterpreted” an Indiana law, according to Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany.
On May 2, however, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an alcohol bill into law that — among other things — added farm wineries and artisan distilleries to a list of 26 places exempt from separating minors from areas where alcohol is being served. As long as they’re accompanied by an adult over the age of 21, anyway.
Other exempt businesses include bowling alleys and sports arenas.
Depending on who you ask, the new legislation has either saved small businesses from a burdensome regulation or unneccessarily exposed minors to harmful substances.
Clere, a co-author of the legislation, believes that the law has helped rather than hurt.
“It will allow Huber’s and other farm wineries to continue to offer a family friendly destination, and it will allow artisan distilleries to develop a similar model,” he said.
Huber’s is both a farm winery and an artisan distillery. Farm wineries are simply those that sell less than 1 million gallons of wine annually and artisan distilleries are places where liquor is made and sold.
But Huber's is also a popular destination for pumpkin patching and strawberry picking.
In a previous interview with the News and Tribune, Ted Huber, the president of Huber’s, said that an approximate 80 percent of the business' guests bring their children to the tourist destination during the fall and summer.
Before May 2, they were forced to either leave their children behind barriers if they wanted to buy or drink wine after enjoying the orchard with their family.
That wasn’t working for Huber’s, according to Clere.
“Had it not been resolved, it would have undermined their whole business model,” he said.
Dana Huber, the vice president of marketing and public relations at Huber’s, agreed, saying that the barriers were confusing for guests and disrupted the workflow at the winery.
MeriBeth Adams-Wolf, the executive director of Our Place Drug and Alcohol Education in New Albany, thinks that the inconvenience might have been worth it.
“The more we expose our children to the availability of alcohol, it increases, unfortunately, their use and potential abuse,” she said.
The World Health Organization backs up Adams-Wolf claim, citing culture, availability of alcohol and enforcement of alcohol policies as environmental factors that affect patterns of alcohol consumption and the severity of alcohol-related problems.
The Prevention Research Center, a national group of scientists and other professionals that focused on limiting the consumption of alcohol, even recommends establishing restricted drinking sections that young people aren’t allowed to enter as a solution to underage drinking. Other ideas include prohibiting alcohol sales at venues popular with minors.
Adams-Wolf said in an email, that Clere's legislation also comes at an inopportune time — when the surrounding community is dealing with plenty of damage caused by addiction.
“…With all due respect to these businesses, I would think we as a community would be better served trying to come up with long term solutions (i.e. changing norms), then to prioritize what increases the bottom line for some businesses,” she said.
But it’s parents, not businesses, that Clere thinks should be responsible for limiting minors' exposure to alcohol and related messages.
“If parents don’t want to take their children to a bowling alley because of the presence of alcohol you know then that’s their decision, and it should be respected,” he said.
Adams-Wolf points out that that isn’t a realistic expectation all the time. Sometimes parents don’t do what’s best for their children.
The Huber’s owners, for their part, are following Indiana’s alcohol rules, Dana said. They require ID’s to be shown whenever an alcoholic beverage is served, for example.
They’re also involved in community efforts to prevent irresponsible drinking, including a recent partnership with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. They hosted a drunk driving prevention class for area high schoolers.
“That’s a top priory for us,” Dana said.
And Clere isn’t ashamed to be speaking for business. He describes himself as an advocate for craft production in Indiana.
“It’s about economic development and jobs, retail and agritourism and the revitalization of downtowns,” he said.
Businesses such as Huber’s or River City Winery in New Albany, contribute a lot to their communities, he said.
Clere was behind legislation in 2013 that created the artisan distiller’s permit, and he already has plans to tackle more alcohol issues in the future.
He’d like to see small breweries and artisan distilleries allowed to sell their products at farmer’s markets, as well as the clearing up of Indiana law about farm wineries selling and serving wine in the areas surrounding their physical bars and tasting rooms.
Huber’s, for example, likes to have wine tastings in its vineyards and other parts of its property occasionally. A crackdown on that came last summer, as well, according to Clere.
Now, Huber’s consults with the ATC every time it wants to sell or serve wine outside of its usual buildings.
But not every alcohol related bill Clere supports is about loosening up regulations. He’d like to limit access to liquor in grocery, drug and big-box stores.
That, he figures, both he and Adams-Wolf could agree upon.